Back in 2017, Gary Hunt and Rhiannan Iffland kicked off the Red Bull CliIff Diving season with victory on the rough and rugged Irish island of Inis Mor. This weekend the reigning champions return to the Emerald Isle, this time to the capital city of Dublin, where they will attempt to extend their unbeaten runs and magnify their aura of invincibility. After a scorching season opener in El Nido, can they conquer the considerably cooler conditions and achingly cold waters of Dublin Bay to stay in charge of the title fight?
"My memory from Ireland 2017 was that the place was amazing," says Iffland, "but it was probably one of the most challenging competitions that I've had to date in terms of weather, unpredictability and nothing being set in stone with the competition format because of the weather. You turn up and you have to adapt to the weather conditions, the way that the schedule is being changed.
"It was also good memories. I loved being out on the Aran Islands, it was absolutely beautiful and the people there were amazing. So it's nice to come back to Dublin because we also know that the people love this event and they're going to be here to cheer us on in all weather conditions."
Despite a rainy training session on Friday afternoon, the forecast for the weekend is very promising with sunshine and dry conditions predicted to welcome thousands of fans as they flock to Dún Laoghaire Harbour to enjoy the action. For the cliff divers though, the chilly air and frigid water will remain, and it certainly plays a part in their preparation and performance.
"When you're cold your body tightens up naturally," says Hunt,"and it's very difficult to find that loosenenes physically and mentally. It affects us all though, so it's something that each of us has to deal with. Unlike Inis Mor however, we don't have to contend with wind and crashing waves this time."
If the champions do go on to secure victory this weekend, it will continue their impressive run of form, making it a record-equalling sixth World Series win in a row for Hunt and a third on the spin for Iffland, who also boasts a sensational record of 12 wins in her 18 career stops. Right now, it feels like the two are almost unstoppable, something which Iffland herself puts down to consistency:
"I think I just dive consistently," explains the 27-year-old. "My optional dives are usually quite consistent as well, so with those bigger scores and the Degree of Difficulty together, I think consistency is key for any diver."
Hunt, who experienced the biggest dip of his career at the beginning of last season due to a mental block, believes that those dark days helped push him to another level:
"I went through a lot," admits the Brit, "but having to build off a slow start gave me a lot of incentive and a lot of fire. Midway through the season I knew I had to prove myself and show how strong I was mentally. I had to be at my best right until the very end. I'm full of confidence now and I'm unbeaten in the World Series with the same set of dives that I've been doing since I started this win streak."
American Steven LoBue, who pushed Hunt all the way last season, echoes the sentiments of his rival: "At the moment Gary seems like he's regained form completely, and probably even more dangerous now because he's overcome such adversity to be in the spot he's in. It's going to be tough and I'm traditionally a slow starter and only heat up mid to late season, so I'm really just focused on myself and what I can do and timing-wise we'll see. It's always the goal to beat Gary. If you beat Gary, you're a happy person."
What do the experts think though; can anyone step up and challenge the champions?
"I think that some time soon we'll see a few guys coming really close to Gary," says head judge Claudio De Miro. "I refer to Constantin Popovici and Catalin Preda. When it comes to Rhiannan, at the moment she needs to make a mistake or miss one of her dives for someone to beat her.
"To get closer to Rhiannan or even beat her, I think the other women need to improve, both the Degree of Difficulty as well as the technique and the entry. Rhiannan has an impressive entry and so I'd focus on the technique first. They need to be more consistent."
This weekend the 'untouchables' will display their skills in front of a huge crowd in Dún Laoghaire Harbour, and once again the chasing pack will attempt to remove their air of invincibilty and ignite an exciting title fight.
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